By Bonson Lam
The words Kyoto and shopping are synonymous with the handicraft stores in Sannenzaka and the department stores near Shijo Kawaramachi. However, beneath the geishas and the camera toting sightseers in Gion lies an underground world, one inhabited by Mrs. Suzuki and her neighbours, going about their daily business, whether shopping to cook dinner that night for Kaori chan and Shigeki kun or picking up the latest home wares for the new year preparations.
One of the charms of staying in a machiya like Kaikoan is that it allows me to explore this part of Higashiyama and the Teramachi districts of Kyoto, to live and shop like a local, at places like the Zest shopping arcade. Imagine a parallel universe where the shopkeepers spend the whole day away from sunlight, beavering away in their underground community. While the folk here look similar to those above ground, it is a place that is unknown to most tourists. Here they speak words like “Kyoto Eco-Money”, talk about a character aptly named “Mole-kun”, and have song and jingle performer auditions. Fortunately for outsiders like me, the layout of this underground city is fairly straight forward. Glancing at the arcade map, you can see the stores lined up along like a main street, making it easy to navigate.
All that work trying to find the elusive Mole-kun and thinking of what ditty I would sing at the contest is making me hungry, and fortunately, the cavalry is at hand, in the form of Kazuyuki tonkatsu or Japanese style crumbed pork cutlet, with a generous helping of Bulldog Worcestershire sauce. Other eateries here include Colorado Cafe and Tea Room, Shirakawa curry and Yomen-ya Goemon pasta. There are a number of Western style cafes with homemade desserts and tea, which is a great place for afternoon tea. Some of them are individually run by local families, so you may not be able to find such unique designs and tastes above ground. For Mrs Suzuki, no sortie here is complete without a round at the Misugiya delicatessen and supermarket, as well as dropping in at the Kaldi Coffee Farm, which stocks single origin and coffee blends from all over the world, as well as international foodstuffs like wine, cheese and spices. This is a real find for visitors like me, as groceries and food from home are staples when I want to eat in during my travels. Kaldi is actually a goat with a long beard like a sage, and he tells me that in Egypt, they serve unsweetened coffee to mourners and sweetened coffee at weddings.
Besides food, fashion boutiques and everyday home ware stores are spread throughout the arcade. Modern fashion and accessories, including some that are rarely found above ground are a real find, as this is home to individual designers who are attracted by lower rents in the underground arcade. Famous home ware brands like Muji have also set up shop here. One of my favourite finds is a shop frequented by nearby residents, a shop sells only cooking and dessert making utensils. Futaba also has a large bookstore here, offering a full range of books and magazines suitable for everyone from infants to the most discerning adult reader, with books for people with various hobbies such as DIY handcrafts, motorcycles, gardening, and so on. If reading is not your cup of tea, you may enjoy a massage at the Good Hand massage centre, get some dry cleaning done, or log in to the free Wi-Fi. You need to register for this beforehand at another place with Wi-fi, like the hotel or at Lawson’s.
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